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Tuesday, May 5, 2009
And six more unexpected Big 12 items this spring

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

You'll always be surprised during spring practice.

Coaches know that. Reporters do, too.

But still, there were a couple of developments that were kind of unexpected across the Big 12 during the spring.

Here are some of the most notable after all of the teams finished their spring work.

Kansas' move of Jeremiah Hatch to center: Conventional wisdom always holds that teams build their offensive line around their tackles. Hatch had some stumbles last season as a freshman, but showed a lot of upside in his development. But the loss of starter Ryan Cantrell at center and the development of Tanner Hawkinson at left tackle enabled coach Mark Mangino to move Hatch to his more preferred position at center. This move has huge ramifications as Hawkinson will be protecting quarterback Todd Reesing's blind side. That task might be the most important one on the team as the Jayhawks challenge for their first undisputed Big 12 North title.

Colt McCoy looks human: The Heisman Trophy finalist has carved up nearly every opponent in the first three seasons of his strong career. En route, he has set nearly every school passing record and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting last season. Maybe it was the wind at Texas' spring game. Or it might have been the absence of top receiving threats Jordan Shipley and Blaine Irby due to injuries. Or more probably, it was the fearsome performance of Texas' secondary. But McCoy completed 11 of 24 passes for 95 yards against his teammates. He had completed less than 50 percent of his passes in a game only once in his career.

Top recruit Jason Hannan leaves Oklahoma: The Sooners' offensive line was in flux already with four departed starters. But Hannan, who some recruiting analysts had graded as the nation's top center prospect in his class, decided to leave late in spring practice. Ben Habern had beaten him out for the starting job, but Hannan still could have helped. It's surprising when any prospect leaves the Oklahoma program -- particularly one that was such a heralded recruit.

Robert Griffin gives us track for this spring: It's a mark of Griffin's commitment to his team that he gave up track this spring after winning the Big 12 championship in the 400 hurdles last season and finishing third nationally. Griffin has decided to devote himself to football, adding more weight and building strength and football flexibility as he prepares for the upcoming season. I still expect to see Griffin challenging for a position on the Olympic track team one day, but his aims now are directed to getting the Bears to a bowl game first.

Paul Rhoads' frank assessment of his talent: When the new Iowa State coach said he needed 30 practices to help build his young team, it probably wasn't just idle talk. Rhoads knows his defense never would be mistaken for the "Steel Curtain" of the Pittsburgh Steelers' glory era. I was just surprised he would say that, as well as talking about his team's "average speed." It means that Rhoads clearly sees his team has a long way to go before its Sept. 3 opener against North Dakota State.

Alex Henery's conversion to punter: The Nebraska kicker developed into one of the finest kickers in college football when he converted 18 of 21 kicks last season, including the record-breaking 57-yarder than helped beat Colorado. Henery came to Nebraska as a punter and was clearly interested in doing both after Dan Titchener and backup Jake Wesch graduated. But I'm a little surprised Bo Pelini would let him do both. Why mess with a good thing, particularly when Henery could challenge for the Groza Award this season with another strong season as a kicker?